Ohio City project’s rejection to be appealed

Knez Homes townhouses planned on Bridge Avenue.

Knez Homes’ second try at building townhomes on Bridge Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood met the same rejection by a planning panel as the first, despite making changes so it would meet zoning code requirements. The developer said it would appeal the rejection through the courts (Knez). CLICK IMAGES TO ENLARGE THEM

Planning commission rejects project that meets zoning code

Despite meeting the requirements of the city of Cleveland’s existing and proposed zoning code, a planned townhouse development for the Ohio City neighborhood was shot down by the City Planning Commission. It is the second time a townhouse project by the same developer at this location was rejected by the same panel.

That 2019 rejection and subsequent appeal was the subject of a voluntarily withdrawn lawsuit by the developer Knez Homes whose lawyer Anthony Coyne angrily promised to resubmit it moments after the commission’s action Friday.

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Knez Homes is proposing 11 market-rate townhomes on 0.273 acres at 4705 Bridge Ave. Previously on the site was a gas station that served as a front for a heroin trafficking operation that sent more than a dozen people to prison several years ago. Knez acquired the property, demolished the blighted gas station and removed the underground fuel tanks along with polluted soil from the site, replacing it with clean soil. Coyne said Knez’s investment so far was more than a half-million dollars.

The proposed townhouses including enclosed garages range in size from 1,500 to 1,860 square feet each. As proposed, the development was less dense than what was planned here two years ago. The number of townhomes was decreased by one and the square footage of five of the townhouses also was reduced.

Knez Homes submitted this revised site plan for its proposed Ohio City townhouse development on Bridge Avenue. The previous site plan is below (Knez).

That allowed the development to add more greenspace and landscaping and to meet the current zoning code as well as a proposed new townhouse code that’s pending before City Council. In the end, the result was the same. Planning Commission disapproved of the project, voting 2-4 against.

“I’m not against the density at all,” said City Planning Commission Chairman David Bowen during Friday’s meeting. “I think they made strides forward. I just think it sits way too heavy on the site and is too clunky from the street and pedestrian area to fit within the context with the rest of the environment.”

“I don’t care if you don’t like it,” said Bo Knez, founder and CEO of Knez Homes, one of Northeast Ohio’s largest housing developers, in a phone interview. “The job of the planning commission is to follow the zoning code, not personal opinions. We as contractors are steered by what the planning commission decides. How are we supposed to plan our projects when the commission doesn’t follow the code? It’s frustrating to say the least.”

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“That’s why one follows the zoning code,” Coyne said to commission members during the meeting. “That’s why esteemed architects (and planning commission member) like Mr. (August) Fluker look at the zoning code first. That’s what you do. That way you don’t have questions about arbitrariness and capriciousness and I think it’s important we try to do that. And if we’re going to change the code, I’m all for that too so that you can follow it.”

This was the previous site plan that Knez Homes submitted to the city of Cleveland in 2019 for 4705 Bridge Ave. See the latest site plan above (Knez).

Fluker, a principal at Cleveland-based City Architecture, made the ill-fated motion for the commission to support Knez’s project, with a slight design modification supported by Knez. The project also was supported by Ohio City Inc., led by Executive Director Tom McNair.

“You can’t have somebody spending this kind of money investing in our city with(out your approval) because you don’t like it,” Coyne added. “It doesn’t pass the reasonableness test. But the commission has a job to do and if that’s how it wants to proceed, that’s understood. I can only say we’re disappointed and we’ll let the court process go forward and address it at that time.”

Coyne referred to a case filed in late 2019 in which a Knez affiliate, 4705 Bridge Avenue LLC filed suit against the City of Cleveland. In August of that year, the more dense version of the townhouse project was approved by planning commission but required variances from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

The matter went back to planning commission which rejected the project. Knez filed suit through the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas court and the matter went to mediation. Both parties agreed that a revised plan which conforms with the proposed new townhouse zoning code should be resubmitted to planning commission. Coyne pledged to re-file the case in common pleas court.

Shown here are different angles of the proposed Knez Homes townhouse development at 4705 Bridge Ave. in the Ohio City neighborhood (Knez).

Bowen has been under public criticism lately due to two recent matters. In one, Bowen’s architectural firm Richard L. Bowen + Associates submitted designs to the commission for a wellness center by controversial businessmen Tony and Bobby George on land they acquired in 2018 at West 25th Street and the Detroit-Superior Bridge.

That property is being pursued by the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority via eminent domain for emergency hillside repairs and the planned Irishtown Bend Park. The commission had already approved plans for the park in 2017. McNair questioned the appropriateness of Bowen accepting the design job for a conflicting use.

In the other matter, Bowen spoke at a June community meeting on a proposed Lake Avenue reconstruction and Cleveland Metroparks’ sidewalk widening in his Edgewater neighborhood. In the meeting, he referred to being attacked outside his home in the early 2000s by what he called a gang. “It would be a shame that a gang can’t chase me away but the Metroparks can,” he said. Bowen later apologized for those remarks and said he would recuse himself from voting if the widened sidewalk plan came before the commission.

Friday’s planning commission meeting, which had a lengthy agenda due to its many project and administrative applications, was ended before all matters could be addressed. At least two commission members had to leave the meeting which dropped the number present below a quorum, meaning no more votes could be taken.

Delayed until the next meeting two weeks from yesterday were approximately eight items left unaddressed from Friday’s agenda. They included proposed multi-million-dollar projects such as a new parking garage at the huge Circle Square development in University Circle and the planned Silverhills at Thunderbird apartment complex on Scranton Peninsula in the Flats.

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